Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Just Another PC Rant

~pulls her soapbox out of storage and blows the dust off~

Wow, haven’t been up on my soapbox in a while, but the need to rant has hold of me today. (Hey, I can see my house from here!)

I have to start today’s rant with a grammar lesson. Sorry about that. (But I haven’t done one of those in a while either.)

Tell me what’s wrong with this sentence:

USA Today bestselling author, Kimberly Lang is ranting on her soapbox today.

Um, it’s the comma, gang.

USA Today bestselling author” is functioning as an adjective phrase modifying the noun “Kimberly Lang.” Now, would you insert a comma in the phrase “funky monkey?” No. "Funky" modifies "monkey" and you don’t separate an adjective from its noun with a comma. Period.

Some confusion arrives on the scene (as it often does with commas) when we start talking about appositives. An appositive renames the noun. So, in the phrase “My daughter, Amazing Child,” Amazing Child is the appositive renaming the noun phrase “my daughter.”

You still with me? Good.

However, some appositives are necessary while others aren’t. The sentence “My book The Secret Mistress Arrangement takes place in Chicago” contains a necessary appositive. I’ve written six books, so you need the title in order to know which book we’re talking about.

However, if I change the sentence to “My first book, The Secret Mistress Arrangement, takes place in Chicago,” the title of the book becomes unnecessary, because I can only have one first book. Necessary appositives are not set off from the sentence by commas. Unnecessary appositives are set off by commas. It can get tricky – if you, like me, only have one daughter, the appositive "Amazing Child" will always be unnecessary. Instigator has two daughters, so she always has a necessary appositive after the phrase “My daughter.” (For a full discussion of this, click here.)

And even if someone wanted to argue “Kimberly Lang” was an unnecessary appositive in that first sentence (good luck), where’s the other comma, huh? And no, in no way can anyone argue that “USA Today bestselling author” is some kind of introductory phrase or dependant clause.
So the sentence is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But that’s not my rant. My rant is the fact I’m seeing this everywhere these days – and from people who should know better.

Just for example, a publicist sent me a press release she wanted me to send to my RWA chapter. This improper comma construction ran unchecked through the entire thing.

“Bestselling author, John Smith…” “Multipublished author, John Smith…” Seven times in one press release.

I’ll let the author of that press release claim one misconstruction like this as a typo. But seven? That’s not a typo; that’s “doesn’t understand the concept.” And this person is a claiming to be a professional publicist. Since writing press releases and other things are an important part of a publicist’s job, I’m allowed to expect her to write a proper press release.

So this rant is about more than just grammar. I’m so tired of people claiming they know what the hell they’re doing when they don’t. Poor John Smith hired a publicist assuming she could perform an essential part of her job: writing a press release. And it’s not like this structure is uncommon in press releases...

“New York Firefighter John Smith…” “Dog lover and poet John Smith…” “NASCAR fan and belly dancer John Smith…” No commas anywhere.

So this construction of adjective phrase + noun is not unique to authors. I just don’t understand why everywhere I look these days I see this. “Blaze author, Kira Sinclair…” “Presents author, Kimberly Lang…” Argh. I’m pulling my hair out.

Go ahead; call me a Grammar Nazi. But if you’re claiming to be a professional, please punctuate it correctly. Here, I’ll do it for you:

“Grammar Nazi and USA Today bestselling author Kimberly Lang climbed on her soapbox today about commas.”

(Look, I even made it longer and still didn't stick a comma in there!)

~huffs off~

Go ahead, tell me if I’m being unreasonable to expect a publicist to know how to write a press release and punctuate it properly…


PS: And if you're really interested in learning more about commas and other fun grammar things, I have a whole series of articles about Grammar Gremlins here.

PPS: Author Kristi Gold joins us tomorrow!

PPPS: The Playfriends are partying with Barbara Vey this week in celebration of her Blogging Anniversary. Click on the link in the sidebar to check out all the cool things happening on Beyond Her Book all week and all the lovely prizes being given away.


Jane said...

You're not being unreasonable, PC. I would expect a publicist to know the punctuation rules.

PM's Mother said...


Playground Monitor said...

Are you the grammarian about whom my mother warned me? ::grin:: And I don't think you're unreasonable either. A publicist should know good grammar.

And nobody rants like you.

Smarty Pants said...

You know what the problem is? In school, if a kid can read and write with any proficiency, they skip this kind of stuff. I got pulled onto an accelerated track where we started reading Shakespeare and doing creative writing projects. I tested out of Freshman English in college and spend an entire semester analyzing Silent Spring. I didn't diagram sentences or learn about things like passive voice.

When you spout your big grammaraian words, I have no idea what you're talking about. Noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun. Yeah, that's about it.

That said, people need proofreaders. I saw an online add yesterday for Fiber One Cereal that said "Hungy, no. Delicious, yes." Hungy! How many people had to approve that ad before it slipped through like that?

Instigator said...

My head just exploded. You know I can't handle grammar this early in the morning. :-)

But I'm not stupid...there's no way in hell I'm going to argue with you when it comes to grammar! :-) See, that's the difference between me and the publicist. I'm fully aware of my comma deficiency and would never, ever attempt to convince someone I know what I'm talking about.


PC's Mom said...

And PC wonders why I have her check important things I write! (Yes, I do know I'm not supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction, but it seemed appropriate.)

I've never even heard of an appositive! Will grammer check catch this?

PC's Mom

My verification word is zesborap. I don't normally like rap, but this might have a zesty Caribbean beat.

Angel said...

Um, I'm an English major and my head exploded halfway through this rant. But, yeah, if you don't know where to place commas, don't send anything out on my behalf. That would be so embarrasing.